Zeleia in Homer’s Iliad

View of the Sea of Marmara from Karabiga, north of the town of Biga, Çanakkale, the possible location of the ancient Zeleia. PHOTO CREDIT: Danbury. This photo is licensed under the the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

“Destiny was against me on that day
I took my bow of horn down from its peg
and led my men to your sweet town of Troy,
for Hector’s sake. If ever I return,
if ever I lay eyes on land and wife
and my great hall, may someone cut my head off
unless I break this bow between my hands
and throw it into a blazing fire!”1

In Homer’s Iliad, the major figures–Achilles, Hektor, Menalaus, Paris, Agammemnon, Diomedes, Ajax, Odysseus, Sarpedon, to name a few–receive much of the attention, but the poem flourishes through its depth, including the numerous descriptions of characters. Through Homer’s obsessive cataloging, we understand the enormity of the war, but through his rich description we come to appreciate the the impact of the war on all who are involved.

One of the more interesting minor characters is Pandarus, an archer on the Trojan side who is persuaded by the expectation of Paris’s gratitude and rich gifts to shoot an unsuspecting Menelaus at the moment when the war could be brought to a relatively easy resolution. Although Pandarus believes he will earn the adulation of the Trojans, his inspiration to shoot is part of a deception conceived by Hera and carried out by Athena, two goddesses whose singular focus in the war is to bring about the complete destruction of Troy. Their goal, however, is in danger of being lost when Paris and Menelaus, Helen’s two lovers, meet in single combat to end the war, so Pandarus is manipulated into wounding Menalaus after Paris is rescued by Aphrodite in “Book Four.”

Pandarus’ character gains more depth in “Book Five” after he wounds Diomedes but fails to kill him. Having shot two of the principal fighters on the Achaean side, Pandarus delivers an approximately 35 line speech in which he expresses regret over bringing his bow to the war instead of horses and a chariot, describes his love for the spoiled horses he left at home, shows his stubbornness in having ignored his father’s advice, and demonstrates his self-depricating sense of humor in calling for his head to be cut off if he does not immediately make amends for his foolishness when he returns home to Zeleia. The characterization is swift and brilliant, a Homeric description made more poignant by Pandarus’ death shortly afterward.

Pandarus’ home of Zeleia is described in “Book Two” as being on the lower slope of Mount Ida and near the river Aesepus, but its precise location is difficult to determine. In the Dictionary of Greek and Roman Geography, the location is described as possibly being near the modern town of Biga in the Çanakkale Province of Turkey, which is indicated on the map. This would place it approximately 55 miles northeast of Troy. The peak of Mount Ida (in modern Turkish, Kaz Dağı) is located about 40 miles south of Biga, and is referenced several times in the Iliad. Zeus has an altar on the highest peak, Gargaron, and it is near this place that he lies distracted with with Hera after she seduces him. Like the Achaean, or Greek fighters, who come from a wide geographic area to fight alongside Menelaus, the Trojan allies’ regional homes give a sense of the scope of Homer’s world.

Read more about Pandarus including his other literary appearances and his connection to the word “pander” on Wikipedia, where there is also information about Zeleia. Find the Iliad at a local library or on Amazon.

1Homer. The Iliad. Trans. Robert Fitzgerald. New York: Knopf, 1992. Print.

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